Children Who Grow Up Surrounded by Green Space Could Have Lower Risk of Psychiatric Disorders

A new Danish study has found that growing up around more green space can potentially mean kids have a much lower risk of developing psychological disorders in adolescence and adulthood.

The findings, published in PNAS late last month, saw researchers look at almost 1 million people across Denmark and conclude that individuals who spend their youth in a more natural, greener setting as opposed to an urban environment could have an up to 55 percent lower chance of going on to battle mental illness as an adult.

According to the study, “The association remained even after adjusting for urbanization, socioeconomic factors, parental history of mental illness and parental age.”

“We found that association was stronger when we calculated a cumulative measure of green space from birth to age 10 compared to measuring green space at one single year,” said the study’s lead researcher Kristine Engemann, according to WebMD. “This indicates that the positive association builds up over time, and that being exposed to green space throughout childhood is important.”

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For the study, Engemann and her five co-researchers looked at demographic data from a Danish residential registry, including that of citizens who had registered as having a psychiatric disorder.

They then used satellite data from 1985 to 2013 to assess the amount of green space that each individual grew up around, after which they reached their 55 percent conclusion.

“Our findings affirm that integrating natural environments into urban planning is a promising approach to improve mental health and reduce the rising global burden of psychiatric disorders,” the study said.

While the study has led to an eye-raising conclusion in terms of percentages, Engemann cautioned in an interview with NPR that the findings are “purely correlational, so we can’t definitively say that growing up near green space reduces risk of mental illness.”

However, “There are a lot of potential mechanisms to follow up on, but generally I think this study is tremendously important,” said Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist from the University of Richmond.

“It suggests that something as simple as better city planning could have profound impacts on the mental health and well-being of all of us,” Lambert added to NPR.

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